The concerned phone calls and emails started a few days ago.
“There was a real hoo-hah going on,” said Leslee Rutman, a Wellington snowbird from the suburbs of Toronto.
Her Canadian friends and family were warning her about the new Florida law, the one that was the subject of a recent spate of newspaper stories and TV news shows in Ontario.
“They were all asking me what I was going to do,” Rutman said. “We had no idea that as far as the Florida law goes, we’ve been driving in violation.”
This is one of those stories that gets filed away in the drawer reserved for the crazy things that Florida’s lawmakers do.
Without fuss or fanfare last year, state legislators quietly amended a section of Florida’s laws pertaining to driver licenses. The change, which went into effect on Jan. 1, said that visitors with an out-of-country driver license would be permitted to rent a car or drive their own car in Florida only if they obtained an International Driving Permit issued by their home country in addition to their valid driver license from that country.
An International Driving Permit is essentially a driver license translated into 10 languages. The rationale for this was that Florida law-enforcement officers shouldn’t have to deal with drivers who have non-English words written on their foreign driver licenses.
One problem with this law change, which was made so quietly that it took more than a month for the media and AAA officials to discover it, is that it lumps all foreign nations in one pot.
Even the English-speaking ones. So, foreign visitors with driver licenses already in English, are being forced to pay more money in their home country to get a license translated into nine other languages so that a Florida Highway Patrol trooper can read the English that was there in the first place.
Even worse, the law also violates the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, which allows nations to make agreements with other nations to accept domestic driver licenses as valid for foreign tourists.
The United States and Canada have such an agreement. That’s why Americans are permitted to drive in Canada, even in French-speaking Quebec, with only a valid license from the American state in which they live. And it’s why Canadians can drive in America with only their own Canadian license.
At least it was, until Florida legislators dreamed up the new permit requirement.
Rolling out the unwelcome mat for Canadian snowbirds and other international visitors at the time of year when Florida is counting on them to be here did not go unnoticed by the state’s tourism leaders.
“As a board member serving on the State Tourism Association, I have received official confirmation that this law will not be enforced from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles,” wrote Rozeta Mahboubi, the executive director for the Martin County Convention & Visitors Bureau, in an email blast last week. “It will have no impact on our visitors.”
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles also posted a notice advising visitors that this was going to be one of those Florida laws that everybody just agrees to ignore.
“Treaties to which the United States is a party pre-empt state laws in conflict with them,” the department notice said. “Therefore, the Florida Highway Patrol will defer enforcement of violations of the amended statutory section until a final determination of the alignment of the amendment with the treaty can be made …
“The FHP will not take enforcement action based solely on the lack of an International Driving Permit.”
In other words: Forget it, Jake. It’s FloridaTown.
So push over, prayer-in-public-school law. Make some extra room, suspicion-less urine-testing initiative. You’ve got a new neighbor, law that bans doctors from asking patients about guns. Squeeze tight, unconstitutional voter-suppression law.
We’ve got another doozy for the drawer.